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FOR THE KIDS : Tag, With a Little Zap and Zowie : Lazerstar's pulsing lights, fast music, floating mist are used to lend surreal feel to space-age 'mission.'

November 10, 1994|JANE HULSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pow! Zap! Gotcha! Oh no, I'm hit! Guard the base! Watch out--behind you! Gotta reload!

It sounds like combat, but it's really more like tag. Laser tag, that is. Lazerstar opened its doors in Oxnard last month, and the high-tech game of galactic stealth is drawing kids and adults.

Brothers John and Paul Henigin have created a 6,000-square-foot labyrinth where team members, suited up in computerized laser gear, square off--all to the beat of frenetic music, pulsating black lights and wisps of mist.

It's a bit bewildering the first time you sign on for a "mission." Players dart about, crouching behind walls. Streams of red light flash to signal a hit. It's all over in 20 adrenaline-pumping minutes. The cost? For one mission, or game, it's $7.50.

There's nothing quite like it in the Los Angeles area, according to the brothers. The closest laser-tag arenas are south in San Diego or north in the San Francisco area.

When you walk in, though, what you see--and hear--are video games and the roar from a road-racing game that simulates Daytona. A snack bar serves up pizza, ice cream and soda to players awaiting the announcement of their game from the mission control center. No alcohol is available.

"We want it to be family entertainment," said John Henigin, the manager. He recommends it for anyone 10 and older.

The brothers don't like comparisons of Lazerstar to the paint-ball war games where combatants try to "kill" each other by shooting splats of paint.

"We're not trying to project a Road Warrior or Rambo atmosphere," John Henigin said. "That war stuff is common in other laser-tag arenas." In fact, here the weapons are never called guns, but "laser handsets," which operate by push button.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, 32 people--an equal mix of kids, teen-agers and adults--signed on for a game. (Up to 40 can play.) The mission's code name? "Foxtrot." The players picked code names too: "Commando," "Jester," "Sniper," "Burn Out," "Cowboy," to name a few.

They watched a short video about the game before going into a briefing room where they divided into two teams--red and green--and learned the rules. No foul language. No running. No body contact. In fact, if players get closer than five feet, the laser handset won't score a hit.

In the equipment room, they strapped on bulky vests--red or green--with the computerized gizmos that make it all work. A space-age computer voice tells patrons when they have made a hit or been zapped.

Once the game actually begins, the idea is not only to zap opposing players but to hit targets at the other team's base for extra points. Players are supposed to cover for each other and work as a team.

That day the teamwork was nil. It was every player for himself. "Cover your bases, red team," an arena marshal yelled as green players took pot shots at the targets.

When it was over, the green team had won. Mission control handed out a printout of the game results to each player that showed who hit whom how many times.

"It was a lot of fun," said a sweaty David Tapie of Camarillo, who was there with his two sons. "It's a good workout."

For Sarah Vernon, 10, of Camarillo it was a chance to zap her older brother, Scott, who was celebrating his 15th birthday. For Scott, "It was awesome, shooting people, running around, trying to avoid people."

It was Paul Henigin's idea to open Lazerstar. A certified public accountant who lives in Honolulu, he enlisted the help of his brother, John, who owns Pronto Brake and Muffler in Oxnard.

Located in a 15,000-square-foot building along the Ventura Freeway, the Lazerstar complex is the second-largest laser-tag facility in the country, according to the brothers. The game is most popular in Australia, where there are 250 arenas, and in England, which has 80. It's somewhat new to the United States, where it got its start on the East Coast.

Those hesitant to give it a try end up "pleasantly surprised" by the experience, according to John Henigin. "They want to do it again."

*

For something a little less intensive, Ventura Harbor Village is holding "Kids' Day" at the harbor 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. There will be pony rides, a petting zoo, face painting, clowns, sidewalk chalk drawing and rides in a buggy cart drawn by a miniature horse. Children's entertainment, kite flying demonstrations and crafts are also on the agenda.

Details

* WHAT: Lazerstar, a laser-tag facility.

* WHERE: 921 E. Ventura Blvd., Oxnard. (Just off the Ventura Freeway, between Vineyard and Rose avenues exits.)

* WHEN: 3 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday; 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday.

* COST: One mission, $7.50; two or more missions, $7 each. Before 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday, $6.50.

* FYI: The laser-tag arena is wheelchair-accessible. Game not recommended for people with heart problems or women in advanced stages of pregnancy. Call 983-0333.

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